March 31: Cesar Chavez & Liz Claiborne

Today’s Doodle honors Cesar Chavez, a leader and activist in the American labor and farm workers civil rights movement. Today, the anniversary of his birth, is a state holiday in several states, and his legacy lives on in many other ways, including the recently designated Cesar Chavez National Monument.

As a side note, in April last year we honored Dolores Huerta as one of our monthly Doodle-Worthy Women. Huerta co-founded the National Farm Workers Association with Chavez; she was born on April 10th, so we’ll see whether Doodle recognizes  her contribution along with that of Chavez.

Here on Speaking Up, we’ll take a closer look at an accomplished woman: Liz Claiborne.

Portrait of Liz Claiborne, born March 31, 1929.

Portrait of Liz Claiborne, born March 31, 1929.

When I was a little kid, I definitely knew Liz Claiborne’s name from the department stores where my mother shopped. I did not know at the time that her fashion design and production company was the first Fortune 500 company founded, chaired, or helmed by a woman. She got her start designing sportswear at existing companies, and that was her career for 20 years. But she was frustrated by the lack of clothing for professional working women in the marketplace. This led her to found her own — incredibly successful — company aimed at this changing need and new market. Claiborne and her partners began the company with an initial investment of $250,000, and brought in $2,700,000 in its first year of operations.

Claiborne was also an innovator in the strategy of clothing retail sales; she was the first designer to require department stores group all of her clothing together, so that shoppers could mix and match items from a cohesively designed collection. Prior to that, items would be grouped by department — with shirts, dresses, pants, and other items spread out across the entire store.

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